Major(s) News And Notes, July 1, 2021
Players maintaining stiff upper lip on Open protocols, Deere's Open exemption is restored, traveling to Sandwich by rail, the 2022 U.S. Open is sold out and Oakland Hills wants back in the major rota.
Next Major: The Open (July 15-18)
Days To First Tee Shot: 14
Long Range Forecast: Not much rain the next two weeks…they say
Days To The Ryder Cup’s opening session: 85
You have to hand it to the world’s best golfers.
They’re showing great restraint (so far) by going along with The Open’s strict protocols and planning to show up (so far) to play before 32,000 a day. And without their instructors able to put them in a better backswing position or without their back-up chef’s qualifying for the highly-restricted bubbles.
For players vaccinated or otherwise adhering to restrictions set for by the government must seem particularly ridiculous watching maskless folks jammed into Wimbledon amid a 17,616 case-per-day average in the United Kingdom (with 20,223 on Wednesday the 29th alone).
Most of those cases—16,507—were detected in England, home of this year’s championship. It is definitely a global hot spot:
“It is what it is, man,” said Bryson DeChambeau. “It's just a part of the life that we live in right now.”
Rory McIlroy changed his plans for the summer and is now leaving his young family behind, adding the Scottish Open with nothing much else to do but play golf, eat, sit in his hotel room and not look at Twitter.
“But just with travel restrictions and obviously with me being exempt as a sports person and the restrictions not maybe being as heavy as they would be for Erica and Poppy, for example, I just felt like it wasn't fair to put them through what they would have to go through to be here with me,” he said in advance of the Irish Open.
The perils of merely getting to Sandwich without running afoul of contact tracers was put into sharper focus when Britain’s Johanna Konta was forced out of Wimbledon. Then Scotland’s Robert Macintyre was forced out of the Irish Open due to a positive case on his flight back from the U.S. Open:
Speaking of flights with those cleansing air-replacement systems, this year’s John Deere Classic continues its program of offering a chartered jet to The Open. They also will get one last player into The Open field, a spot restored by the R&A after early COVID protocol planning had the exemption likely going to the Final Qualifying.
Instead, the Deere will again offer the same last minute opportunity they’ve provided since 2004.
“The John Deere Classic is very pleased that the R&A has decided to allow the John Deere Classic to award an Open Championship exemption again this year,” said John Deere Classic tournament director Clair Peterson. “The opportunity to claim an exemption into the world’s oldest championship attracts players to the John Deere Classic and creates excitement for our fans.”
So to be clear, it’s the John Deere Classic, right?
The JDC currently has 14 players committed ahead of Friday’s deadline who plant to play The Open: Byeong An, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Lucas Glover, Brian Harman, Charles Howell III, Sungjae Im, Zach Johnson, Si Woo Kim, Danny Lee, Keith Mitchell, Sebastian Munoz, Kevin Na, Alex Noren, and C.T. Pan.
As for the charter, each player can bring two people and will have passed a rapid COVID test taken Sunday morning. It’s not clear how contact tracers would deal with everyone on the charter should a passenger test positive upon arriving at The Open. But as we learned this week players will be subject to “withdrawal” if they’ve been in close contact with a person who tests positive.
Hey John Deere Classic golfers, this is your Captain speaking. Flight time tonight about seven hours, but if we pick up that tailwind I can see wheels down in Kent just in time for a wet sandwich and a bucket of balls. So please keep those seat belts fastened, sit back and try to enjoy the flight even if it’ll just take one COVID positive among you to put a wrench in your week.
The Always Quotable Irish Contingent
Some random pre-Open thoughts courtesy of this week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
Padraig Harrington (T4 at the PGA) on winning another major: “Oh, I dream of it. Who cares about reality? Somebody sitting at home -- but what gets me up in the morning is another major. What gets me out practicing, the reason I work so hard at this game is another major. Sometimes, maybe I should be considering the steppingstones to another major and just competing well and finishing Top-10s and making cuts even and progressing that way. But that really doesn't do it for me. The chance of winning a major is everything. You know, that's what gives me a buzz, and to be honest.”
Graeme McDowell (not in the field yet): “Of course, getting into The Open Championship at St. George's, having missed the first three major championships this year, and importantly, missing the U.S. Open was very disappointing and these are the little things that kind of give you a kick of motivation and desire. Like I said, love to make this into a three-week trip. And I was going to go to The Open qualifier at Lytham yesterday but then when they brought in the three spots here and the three spots in Scotland, I thought that preparing well for these two weeks was probably my best way in. Definitely excited and definitely be out there trying very, very hard to be at The Open Championship.”
Shane Lowry (T4 at the PGA) on his Open defense plans, with some friendly fire directed at non-Irish links: “There's probably nothing you can take away from this week that will help me at St. George's in my game apart from building confidence. More of a mental thing. I'm very fortunate I live in Ireland and I can have about a week's prep on links, on probably not some of the best but probably the best links courses are in Ireland. So I can play a couple of those and hopefully I get a couple of windy days next week that I can really go out and get some good prep done.”
An Early Royal St George’s Scouting Report
Even before the pandemic players had begun to bypass the pre-major scouting trips in favor of following the data, their green books and caddie wisdom. Throw in COVID and travel restrictions and we have almost no scouting reports on Royal St George’s.
Instagram photos show things looking pretty green with thickening rough after recent rains (see superintendent Paul Larsen’s Tweet above).
Certain parts of the course were being given special attention. On the second hole for example, big hitters might go over the bunkers on the left of the fairway thus shortening the hole. So, the rough in the landing areas is being grown. On the third, though there is rough to the right and left of the green, there is a relatively flat area beyond the back of the green. The grass is being grown there so that when the flagstick is at the back of the green it won’t be possible for players to hit over the green and putt back. Likewise, rough to the right of the fourth is being encouraged. “If a player hits his ball into the rough, we want to be rough there,” Healy said.
Mother Nature apparently heard you.
Rail Travel To The 149th
Armed with a newspaper and a little eavesdropping ability, there is no more enjoy way to travel to The Open than by rail. Most years. With the Delta variant and close quarters not what I’d call optimal, masks are required and so are reservations designed for distancing en route to Royal St George’s.
If you’re lucky enough to be one of the 32,000 a day, the Southeastern Railway is worth a Twitter follow where they’ve posted links to their travel information and reservation system. They do note:
A reservation on these trains will guarantee you a space but not necessarily a seat, we expect spaces to sell quickly so please ensure you book as soon as possible to avoid disappointment. If you are travelling from St Pancras International, Stratford International or Ebbsfleet International there will be a managed queuing system to assist your journey.
The 2022 U.S. Open Sells Out Of Gallery Passes
After seeing an end to their sellout streak at Shinnecock Hills, the USGA is anticipating a normal U.S. Open next year at The Country Club.
Despite steeper prices in line with this year’s limited-attendance/USGA Members-first approach, $150 one-day “Gallery” passes for the 2022 U.S. Open have sold out.
Other packages remain. They are not cheap.
Oakland Hills Looks Sensational And Is Ready For Majors Again
Rarely has Oakland Hills been off the major event rotation this long, but with the South Course’s reopening after a Hanse Design restoration, the club is making clear they want to be hosting majors again.
The problem is: there aren’t many openings.
From 1922, when Oakland Hills hosted the then-prestigious Western Open through the 2016 U.S. Amateur, the club has hosted 17 championships including six U.S. Opens, two U.S. Senior Opens, two U.S. Amateurs, one U.S. Women’s Amateur, three PGA Championships, the 2004 Ryder Cup Matches and the Western Open.
Once a USGA staple, having hosted 11 of their championships, including six U.S. Opens, the club would have to wait until at least 2030 when Merion is very much a candidate to host the U.S. Open on the 100th anniversary of the “impregnable quadrilateral.” As noted in a previous Quadrilateral, Winged Foot is lined up to get the open 2028 U.S. Open.
The PGA of America is also equally booked well down the road. Its first schedule opening comes in 2030. The May date may also mean risking a late winter and dicey weather. But the club is ready for whatever might pose an agronomic challenge. In addition to the design elements restored and trees removed, all 18 greens were rebuilt to USGA specifications. There are 19 Precision Air sub-surface units to control moisture and temperature, and a modern irrigation system was installed.
“Oakland Hills is proud to re-open the South Course after a masterful restoration by Gil Hanse,” said club president Michael Dietz. “Our Donald Ross classic has been transformed into a contemporary course that will challenge and delight our membership while hopefully continuing our rich tradition of hosting championship golf at Oakland Hills.”
American readers, have a wonderful July 4th weekend. To my charming and debonair paid subscribers, keep an eye out for several pre-Sandwich Open newsletters over the coming days. I’m getting excited reading up on Royal St George’s and its remarkable history. There’s plenty that’ll get you ready for the 149th Open,